When crime or conflict occurs, the harm it causes ripples out beyond the parties directly involved. It can negatively impact the parties’ relationships their friends, family, and colleagues. It may also damage the shared sense of trust and security in the broader community. A victim of a violent robbery may struggle to go outside, for example, or be present and productive at work. The stress he experiences in the aftermath of the crime may come out in his relationship with his spouse or children. He may notice himself going through life in a state of fear and hypervigilance, or blame himself for what happened. His friends and family may begin to feel less safe in the streets, or consider retaliating against the person who harmed him.
Justice workers know how difficult it is to address the diverse needs that arise from incidents of harm. These include the needs of the victim and the community as well as the needs of the person who caused the harm. How can perpetrators best be held accountable for their actions? How can bad situations be made right again? How can conflict or crime be prevented in the future?
This is achieved by listening to the perspective, experiences and emotions of the other party.
Active accountability also requires that the perpetrator take steps to undo the damage they have caused to the victim and the community. Depending on the needs of the victim, this may mean explaining, apologizing, changing their behavior, paying restitution, or taking initiative to improve themselves themselves as individuals.
High-quality restorative justice services and facilitators are not yet widely available. Where they are available, procedures are not always in place to consistently inform the parties involved – particularly victims – how to initiate them. The limited availability and accessibility of these services also makes it difficult for justice workers to trust that restorative justice is an effective responses to crime. This may discourage them from making referrals to restorative justice providers, and cause them to rely on the more retributive criminal justice responses.